New bill could bar employers from demanding social media passwords

By Michael Mayday , May 26, 2013 11:42 AM EDT

Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are considering a bill which would bar employers from demanding access to an employee's, or a potential employee's, login information to social networks.

The practice of demanding this information isn't illegal, and some employers, typically public agencies like law enforcement, often ask for such information. Some employees, however, consider this an invasion of their privacy.

Enter the Password Protection Act. A bill introduced by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.). The bill, in its current language, would protect current and potential employees from having to surrender access to their Facebook and other social media accounts.

"People have an expectation of privacy when using social media like Facebook and Twitter. They have an expectation that their right to free speech and religion will be respected when they use social media outlets," Perlmutter said in a statement. "Without this protection, employers essentially can act as imposters and assume the identity of an employee and continually access, monitor and even manipulate an employee's personal social activities and opinions."

An article by The Associated Press exposed the practice of surrendering login information in March of 2012. Employees being considered for varying positions said they felt uncomfortable surrendering such information, but employers defended the practice, saying applicants have a right to refuse, but typically don't.

"To me, that's still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it's still a violation of people's personal privacy," Robert Collins, who surrendered his login information to an employer in 2010, said to the AP.

But employers may have a reason to be concerned over an employee's public actions online. Like it or not, both the employer and employee are now considered accessible at all hours of the day - even during an employee's off time. Questionable actions, from drunken ramblings on Twitter to illicit photos being shared over social networks, reflects poorly on an employer - especially if they choose to continue to keep the person in question as an employee.

The Password Protection Act isn't the first bill which aims to protect an employee's password. Welch and Perlmutter both pushed for a similar law in 2012, and other lawmakers, like Jan Reps. Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), have also introduced their own bill which would bar colleges and universities from demanding a student's login information.

Some states, such as Maryland, have imposed bans on employers from asking for login information, though employers can still check a publicly made posts. Previous attempts to pass such a bill on a federal level have failed.

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